Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Full Moon of Pesach

Nothing says "Pesach" to me like the first full moon after the vernal equinox, since this heralds the arrival of Chag Hamatzot, the Festival of Matzos - Pesach. The holiday itself is uniquely set by this astronomical event:
And in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, the Pesach sacrifice shall be offered to the Lord. And on the fifteenth day of this month shall be a festival; for seven days matzot shall be eaten.  -- Numbers 28: 16-17
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying , 2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying , In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: 4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.  -- Exodus 12:1-6
When walking home from shul on Seder night seeing this moon I am reminded of the Seders of my childhood: the excitement and the fear, for I was always afraid I would forget the Ma Nishtanah (The Four Questions), and our large extended family, who gathered at my grandmother and grandfather's house, never got along, especially my mother, so there would be hell to pay for weeks afterward. Still, the excitement always won out over the fear.

Full moon of March 30 (actually the second day of Pesach) rises in Virgo over Machtesh Ramon. Spica is to the lower left of the moon, Arcturus left above the Eerie and even with the moon. The 4 stars of the constellation Corvus are to the right of the moon. A veil of haze drapes its multi-colored hues across the moon's shoulders.

Walking home this Pesach we passed the Club Ramon Hotel, whose tables were set for a large crowd of Seder celebrants, the Rabbi already starting the reading of the Hagaddah as families scrambled to their seats. The dew had already settled on the windows of the cars nearby.

The climax of the delivery from Egyptian slavery occured during "high moon", another reason the moon looms large in the celebration of Pesach. "Va'yiheh ba'chatziy ha'laylah...and it was at the very middle of the night." The moon would have been at the zenith in Egypt about 3300 years ago on this very night, casting its unblinking and eerie light across the Egyptian desert, littered with the dead bodies of the first born of men and animals, exposing to all the horror that had occurred in its ghostly tennebrae. "It is a night of watching unto the Lord...Ki layel shimurim who la'Adonai"...when we throw open our doors at the Seder's climax, invite in Eliyahu the Prophet, the harbinger of the complete and final redemption, as the destroyer passes over our houses. We watch, and God watches. Whose excitement would not conquer fear at such a moment?

9 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon ; and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead . 31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said , Rise up , and get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go , serve the LORD, as ye have said . 32 Also take your flocks and your herds, as ye have said , and be gone ; and bless me also. 33 And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said , We be all dead men. 34 And the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. 35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: 36 And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians. -- Exodus 12:9-36

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